PAS Copywriting Formula Explained [With Real Examples]

PAS Copywriting Formula Explained [With Real Examples]

Copywriting is all the hype at the moment.

And for good reason.

It’s the difference between being average and being the go-to brand in your niche.

Every internet entrepreneur realizes just how important it is - especially the new ones.

And if you reference most of the interviews on Starter Story you’ll see why.

In this article, I’m going to explain what the Problem, Agitate, Solve (PAS) framework is all about. I’ll reference two key landing pages in different niches that execute the PAS formula perfectly. The first is Ticker Nerd, an investing newsletter I co-founded in 2020. The other is an awesome cat food subscription company called Smalls.

Why the Problem Agitate Solve (PAS) formula works so well

The PAS formula can be traced back to a direct marketer named Eugene Schwartz, who also published the popular advertising books Breakthrough Advertising and The Brilliance Breakthrough. His version was articulated slightly differently where the problem was more about acknowledging the desire. The internet wasn’t around in his time so we’ve had to make some adjustments!

There are loads of copywriting frameworks including the popular AIDA method. However, the PAS formula works so well because it’s simple.

There are only three key points to address in your copy. Making this method super versatile. It can be used for long-form sales copy (think landing pages or emails) and it can also be used for short-sharp Facebook ads.

Step 1: Identifying the problem

The first part of the PAS formula is to identify the problem. This can be done in a variety of ways and will depend on the nature of your product or service.

Broadly speaking, what you want to communicate is this: We know you have a problem and that’s okay - we're here to help.

Understanding the customer's problem is crucial. If you can’t nail this step then you’ll never sell anything. It’s something a lot of copywriters still don’t get right. And it's not really their fault.

No one shows a copywriter how to conduct effective customer interviews or user testing. It’s usually a job left for a Product Manager. For the PAS framework to be most effective, you should start with conducting customer interviews and user testing.

So what exactly does this mean?

Customer interviews are pretty simple. You reach out to your existing customers, offer them a gift for their time and then ask them relevant questions. You want to ask direct and open-ended questions. Be careful not to ask a leading question. You want the customer to share what’s on their mind, not reaffirm what’s on yours.

Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What were you expecting to achieve by using {product/service}? Why?
  • Did you compare products before you chose our {product/service}? Tell me more.
  • How did you find out about our {product/service}? Tell me more.
  • What made you choose our {product/service}? Tell me more.
  • After using our {product/service} what are your thoughts? Tell me more.
  • Would you use our {product/service} again? Why/Why not?

User testing is slightly different. This is where you engage random people of a specific demographic to test your product or service. You then assess their reactions and comments to uncover clues about how well it serves them. It’s straightforward to do for websites and software products. Tools such as User Testing and User Brain make this process easy.

Let’s look at some examples of businesses nailing the problem.

Problem example: Ticker Nerd Crypto

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In 2020, I co-founded an investing newsletter called Ticker Nerd (thanks to the help of Pat!). It was acquired eight months later by finder.com. We primarily focussed on stocks, however, after many customer interviews, it was clear we should launch a similar product for Cryptocurrency.

The problem was obvious - investors don’t have the time or the knowledge to find projects that have the potential to generate 100x-1000x returns.

Through continuous interviews and user testing, we were able to write irresistible copy.

The hook “Wish someone told you about Ethereum when it was $5 instead of $2,500?” was straight from a customer's mouth. That’s exactly what they wanted.

They wish someone had surfaced Ethereum to them really early in their crypto journey.

The best copy is often written by using the words and phrases your customers say when expressing the problem they have. This is why customer interviews are essential.

Problem example: Smalls

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Smalls is another company nailing the problem.

It’s no surprise that pet food is often full of cheap ingredients that are harmful.

Real healthy food for your cats almost sounds obvious. The meat emoji makes it even clearer that cats need to be eating animal protein. They go a step further to suggest the food would even make them happy!

Step 2: Agitate the reader

This is where the fun begins.

Now that you deeply understand your customer and you’ve correctly identified their problem, you can start to agitate them.

The reader needs to realize just how deeply the problem can affect them if it goes unchanged.

We want them to understand what would happen if they don’t buy your product or service.

So this is where you take things from bad to worse.

Use harsh words and phrases like “always avoid”, “never”, “don’t”, “bad”, “can't stand”, and “hate” for starters. You want your reader to feel exasperated with their current situation; using strong language will make them want an immediate change.

Statistics are also great for agitating problems—they show how widespread an issue is and help readers visualize what living with this issue might look like beyond their own experience.

Context is also important. You wouldn’t use an obscure statistic when trying to sell men's underwear the same way you wouldn’t use a metaphor when selling a supplement.

Lastly, be careful not to annoy the reader! Make sure you’re still tasteful. Things you should avoid :

  • Referencing problems that are out of the reader's control
  • Being hateful towards the reader
  • Getting too deep and personal
  • Straight up lying

Agitate example: Ticker Nerd

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It’s no surprise that crypto investors have FOMO.

Every crypto investor wants a moonshot coin to make them filthy rich.

An easy way to agitate them was to show them the return that $1,000 invested at the right time could have generated them.

This shows that the promise we make of surfacing coins with 1000x potential is real.

The worst return we showcase is still $123,000 in Maker and the highest is $3M+ in Ethereum.

I still get annoyed when I review our landing page.

Agitate example: Smalls

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It’s clear that Smalls know their customers well. They agitate the reader in a subtle yet effective way.

“Cheap cat food is often full of carbs, grains, and other ingredients that cats either don’t need or are straight-up harmful”

This indirectly tells the reader that if they’re feeding their cat cheap cat food then they're harming the cat. It’s almost hard not to feel bad about yourself and your cat if that’s you.

It’s not exactly common knowledge that carbs and grains are harmful to cats. They’ve successfully exacerbated the problem in an accurate and tasteful way.

Step 3: Making your solution irresistible

The hard part has been done.

Almost.

This is where we really need to convince the reader that they can't live without our solution. It needs to be framed as the only way for the reader to fix their problem.

Be sure to include testimonials and reviews to really convince the reader. It should be obvious, believable, and relevant. The AIDCA method is another copywriting formula that strongly advocates the conviction piece.

So how can we do this?

We translate features into benefits.

To do this you need to ask one basic question for every feature of your product or service.

“So what?”

So what does this feature mean for your customer?

You need to show exactly how every feature of your product or service solves the customer's problem.

Solve: Ticker Nerd

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Readers should already be thinking they need our product by this part.

However, crypto investors spend a lot of time trawling the internet and they often back their abilities to pick winning coins. Or worse they trust a close friend who seems to know something they don’t.

So we had to make it obvious that our solution is the only one if they want to win.

This table breaks down the required tasks, time spent, and the cost of doing your own research and due diligence.

Investors can either spend 190 hours and $38,000 a month researching new opportunities themselves.

Or they could simply join Ticker Nerd and only spend $199 a year and 1 hour a month.

The correct decision is pretty obvious at this point.

Solve: Smalls

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It doesn't get any more compelling than this.

Here are the benefits Smalls communicates to its’ customers:

  • 78% of customers report shinier and softer fur
  • 64% of customers report a less stinky litter box
  • 64% of customers report a more energetic cat
  • 90% of customers report overall health improvements

Not only is this super compelling, but it also makes other options sound inferior.

Anyone who loves their cat (even just a tiny bit) would feel guilty not starting this trial.

Smalls could easily make a long list of all of the healthy ingredients in their cat food. They could even outline how their process is far better than their competitors.

But this wouldn’t get them very far.

Customers care about themselves, or in this case their cat. Which is probably a small extension of themselves.

So whenever you want to sell your solution be sure to translate features into benefits!

In Summary

The Problem, Agitate, Solve (PAS) framework is a copywriting formula that you can use to write copy that truly SELLS.

Understanding your customer and their problems is the only way to truly speak their language. This is why the PAS framework works best when combined with customer interviews.

The framework is versatile and can be used for sales letters, blog posts, videos, emails, social media posts, landing pages, and much more.

Remember, writing compelling copy takes practice.

About the author

Luciano Viterale
Luciano is a freelance content writer and growth hacker. He co-founded Ticker Nerd, an investing newsletter that has since been acquired. Luciano writes about marketing, copywriting, and personal development. When he’s not working he’s spending time with his dog or spearfishing with his brothers. Connect with him at lucianoviterale.com.

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Luciano Viterale, Founder of Ticker Nerd
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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